Retired from the University of Texas and too old to play soccer anymore. Now, in the twilight of his years, time is spent writing in this blog, hiking and exploring Texas Parks, photography, working out, gardening and tending to the five ponds he built .
Once again my heart is heavy with grief. Not for any of my human friends or acquaintances but for another of my furry buddies.
This time my oldest living dog and the one remaining survivor from the original pack of eight, a female mini dachshund by the name of Ginnie, has joined Big Girl, Manley, Mini, Abigail, BeBe, Richie, Pete and Gizmo at the Rainbow Bridge where one day, we will all be reunited, never to be apart from each other again. Ginnie was with me for twelve wonderful years and was a couple of years old when she joined our family making her about fourteen or so.
I acquired her from a Veterinary friend who knew that I was looking for another dog at the time. She moulded into the household full of dogs and cats and although a bit standoffish, more than held her own when she needed to. Ginnie remained a bit of a standout her whole life never really making friends with any of the other dogs. Because she was the smallest, more than once she had to stand up for herself and did so very well. She had this remarkably soft coat which felt like velvet when you stroked her. At night, she had this habit of sleeping with her back touching me and I was always aware of her presence besides feeling her warmth on cold nights. Even though she was small, she would not take any crap from any of the other dogs and could sound quite ferocious.
I will miss her as she was always glad to see me and always made a fuss of me whenever I came home. It’s so sad when we lose our pets and they are never with us for very long. Just when you are used to having them around, they up and die because their lives are so short. Ginnie died from complications with pulmonary lung illness within three days of the symptoms and did so in her own way. She had been on the bed, her usual spot, and I watched as she pushed her way through the doggy door as she had done thousands of times before. She went out onto the deck and barked a couple of times and sat there looking around. Then, she moved onto one of the lower flower beds by the two ponds and lay down and passed quietly away as I watched, with tears streaming down my face.
I buried her along with all of her other buddies next to the big pond where she will spend the rest of her days. There are now ten dogs and two cats in that area all sleeping their final sleep together.
I should point out that my most recent adoptee that I have had for almost a year is another dachshund by the name of Buddy Holly, shortened to Buddy who is half blind, mostly deaf, has no sense of smell and more than a little senile. But, he gets about just fine and takes walkabouts out in the garden and is living out his life with us. His estimated age is twelve but I believe that he is probably a couple of years older so he and Ginnie were about the same age. I was hoping when I got him that he and Ginnie would become best buds but Ginnie, being who she was, just wouldn’t be friends.
Will I ever get another dog not to replace her but to fill the void that is left? Probably another rescue is the answer…
My thanks go to Dr Donop and all of the staff members at Austin Veterinary Diagnostic Hospital who as usual, did all they could to help Ginnie. It was just destined not to be…
These past few days have seen some interesting encounters with the snakes in my yard and either in or around my ponds. It started when I heard the high pitched cry of some sort of animal or bird and not knowing just what it was, I set out to discover what was causing the sound.
It was coming from the direction of the large pond and it took some time for me to locate the source which was a partially swallowed frog in the jaws of one of the non poisonous Diamond Backed Water snakes that inhabits the area. This particular snake is all of 4 ft long. The frog was still alive with only the head and shoulders showing, the rest already in the snakes throat. There was nothing I could do for this frog even if I could have caught the snake as there was too much already down the snakes gullett. Even as I watched, the snake slid into the water and was gone as were the cries of the poor frog. I wonder how long they take to die inside of the snakes digestive system? Incidentally, as we usually associate frogs with croaking and grunting, hearing their high pitched cry of anguish is somewhat disturbing.
Then yesterday when I was outside, I again heard the cry of an animal in distress and followed the sound to the same large pond. It took awhile for me to locate the snake as it was hidden in the plants growing there but I finally spotted it. It may well have been the same snake as there are at least two maybe even three of them. This one was within reach of my long handled hoe and I was able to slip it under the snakes head and shake it about for a bit causing the snake to release its hold on the frog. This one was only held by one back leg and the snake chose to release the frog who quickly scampered away I am sure, much to the snakes disgust. The snake was gone in an instant sliding into the waters of the pond.
Today was even more bizarre as again, as I was out with the dogs just walking around, we heard the same familiar cry of an animal in distress, another frog as it turned out. This one was on dry land next to the Aqua Filter unit and was held by one leg by a much smaller Garter snake that was about 18 inches long. Even as I watched from a couple of feet away, a Diamond Backed Water snake came out of nowhere and made a grab for the frog. The Garter Snake immediately released its hold on the frog and rapidly disappeared leaving it’s prey to the Diamond Backed Water snake. The frog, realizing that it was free, smartly hopped off taking giant 4 feet leaps to get away leaving a very frustrated Diamond Backed Water snake who immediately turned its attention to me making several threatening advances before slithering under the base of the Aqua Filter unit with just its head sticking out. I made a couple of movements towards it and it withdrew its head each time.
Figuring that the excitement and that my lesson with Mother Nature was over for the day, I called the dogs, who had been very warily watching this whole series of events, and we went back indoors.
In retrospect, this was just Nature acting as Nature always acts with the different pecking orders in the food chain. In this case, the frog(s) were the original victim(s) followed by the large snake versus the smaller snake with the frog, a by product of this encounter, all acting just like Humans, the strong over the weak. I felt that I was intruding on this scenario as it was as Nature intended it to be but the anguished high pitched cries of the frogs was more than I could stand without at least trying to rescue them.
Just when I thought I had finished with this post, I was out in the yard this morning and thought I heard the familiar frog cry of anguish, this time, coming from the direction of the 100 gallon tub that contains a water lily. I grow the lilies in separate containers as the Koi tear them up when they are in the ponds. I went over to take a look and sure enough, there was a large frog in the jaws of very long, probably 3 feet of Garter Snake. This one was easy to deal with and I quickly “persuaded” the snake to drop the frog with a short length of hose pipe and then chased the snake out of that particular container where it quickly slithered away about as fast as it could go. I caught the frog and transferred it to another container and thought that was that until a little later, I noticed a frog back in the same 100 gallon tub. Whether it was the same one, who knows. They all look alike to me. I added extra water to the container so that the frog has a sporting chance to hop out when and if the snake(s) return. Frog paradise has now the added excitement of getting eaten by snakes. I wonder if there will be other additions to this story?
Such is the Law of the Wild… Note: The pictures of the snakes are not mine but are downloads from the internet. I don’t have any pictures of them coiled.
Well we finally got some very welcome rain last night. Actually a lot of rain, at least two inches at my house accompanied by high winds. Lucky for me, the Spruce tree that is in one of the ponds did not blow over as it has done in previous high winds. We have not had any significant rain in over three months prior to this and on my drives around the countryside, stock ponds, small creeks and such are bone dry. It is going to take significant rain to bring everything back to normal.
It has been so dry that I have recently cut down almost all of the greenery in my garden, something I normally do following any frost that we may get in the winter. This year, it will not matter how hard it freezes as the only thing that will be affected are the plants in and around the ponds, at least from my perspective.
I even had to turn on the heat inside the house as the temperature indoors had dropped to 65 degrees, a little too low for comfort. Obviously, we are through with the air conditioning for this year. This is typical Texas weather where we go from 100 degrees to 90 degrees and then to 65 degrees all in the space of a couple of weeks. At least it is now great trail hiking weather although I don’t like hiking immediately following heavy rains as the trails are usually pretty muddy and tend to build up on the boots. I have enough problems in just carrying my body weight around without the addition of several pounds of wet dirt.
Maybe I’ll take that walk tomorrow or the next day and give the ground time to dry out a bit…
Life is on hold while the weather is hot as to be outside I do not, wish to be and instead stay indoors where it’s cool and my head can work on things I like to do like reading and writing and listening to Audiobooks with stories so fine written by Authors whose words are divine as the plots unfold one by one leaving me guessing right up to the end who was the bad guy and who the friend and then when I am really bored I jump in my truck and take a drive with no particular place in mind just out in the beautiful countryside the forecast shows we have one more week of one hundred degree weather to bear and then hopefully we will have our share of cooler weather and then life unfolds as back out on the trails will be my goal walking in places so lovely to see taking pictures of things so beautiful to me and then coming home to write some more about what I saw on the trails before along with the pictures I took today to share on my blog in a positive way so that others may view the beautiful scenes while I am happy fulfilling my dreams.
Looking for something to do just what it is I haven’t a clue as my eye has not yet perceived the task and nothing springs to mind that lasts the weather is too damn hot for work with the temperatures at one hundred degrees and everything outside working fine with nothing pressing my time to assign I feed the fish in the early morn and check that everything works fine and if it isn’t I add the task to fix whatever is well-worn the problem is there is too much heat and has been like this for way too long and all of the things that need repair cannot keep as their need is strong it seems to me I have little choice but to go outside even though it is hot to work as quickly as I can and when I am finished I’m a happy man.
I have several Skippy Filters located around the different ponds in an attempt to keep the water clean. Fish are notorious for making the water dirty, they eat and therefore they poop. Add to that the fact that they are always poking around on the bottom of the pond and stirring up the dirt plus the natural phenomenon called algae and rotting leaves from the overhanging trees and at times, the ponds are so dirty that you can’t see anything.
Ponders have learned several different ways to help combat these natural processes most of which are of a mechanical nature involving pumps and filters. Of course, this being America, land of opportunity, there are manufacturers out there willing to sell you the latest and greatest in the form of expensive equipment to help the Pond Owners combat any of the problems that they may have.
I use a combination of manufactured items which includes the pumps and skimmer boxes and I do have one bio filter that I described in a previous blog and several homemade ones that emulate the commercial model. One of these is a 100 gallon rubber farm trough purchased from our local Tractor Supply, and is on the 6000 gallon pond and has been there since I built the pond around ten years ago. They are known as Skippy Filters and I had 3 large ones on different ponds plus 3 of the smaller size. Incidentally, I have never cleaned this particular filter in all of that time.
This one started leaking and as had happened on a previous occasion on a different Skippy on the 5000 gallon pond, the internal weight of the water caused the hard rubber container to crack. This was probably caused by a shifting of the concrete blocks that I used for the tubs to sit on as both tubs have split in the same place, close to where the drain valve is located. I was able to repair the first one and it has been back in operation for a couple of years and hopefully, so far is trouble free.
I turned off the flow to the filter in the 6000 gallon pond and let it sit for a week or so before attempting a repair. This was to allow it to dry out which would make it easier to tear apart. After I deemed it had sat long enough, I bit the bullet, and making a big effort to get up early to beat the heat, proceeded to tear into the vegetation growing out of the thing. I had planted the Iris and Lizards Ear as the roots all help with the filtration but as they had totally taken over the unit, it took a while to get it all out. Interestingly enough, the dirt from the filtered water was all pretty much collected on the top of the filter material in a solid layer several inches thick showing that the unit was more than doing it’s job. The actual filter material is comprised of the pads used by floor buffers, in my case new ones cut up into smaller pieces. It’s pretty much the same as the regular filter material which could be used instead. I sometimes use Lava Rock either in small mesh bags or loose. It also works well but is harder to shovel out and clean.
The filter unit has a chamber space under the filters of about nine inches deep and the inlet pipe is plumbed to empty its contents into this space. I placed a piece of fluorescent light grid on concrete bricks to make this chamber but commercially manufactured grid is available and is stronger.
I finished cleaning out the entire unit and was surprised just how clean the bottom half of the filter material was, more evidence that the unit was working as planned.
With the entire unit free, I pulled it off to an area so that I could work on it and hosed the whole thing out to clean it of any surplus material and then let it dry in the hot Texas sun, which didn’t take too long. I discovered a long crack of about 12 or so inches that had opened up right where the outlet hole is on this tank. This was exactly the same as what happened to the other tank so I had high hopes that I could repair it as I had managed to repair the first one.
By now, it was 98 degrees and way too hot to do any more outside work. I took the time to go to my local Lowe’s so that I could purchase the material I needed to make the repair. This comprised of a small spray can of Flexseal which is a rubberized material that will get right into the cracks and then Flextape which is also rubberized, to cover the entire repair.
When I returned and even though it was by now 100 degrees, I bit the bullet and took time to wire brush and clean the area before applying the contents of the spray can of Flexseal. Deeming that it needed to dry, left it for another go at it the next day which saw me up bright and early again busy applying the Flextape over the affected areas. It was not a straightforward job as there were many changing shapes and contours so I had to cut the tape in strips to cover them all. To test it, I put enough water back into the tank just to cover the affected areas and it immediately began to leak which left me more than a little upset. The air turned blue as I vented my frustration using words that I didn’t know existed. The dogs immediately bolted indoors.
I emptied the remaining water and left the unit to dry and spent that time with yet another trip to Lowe’s this time for a larger can of the spray as I had used up the small one on the initial repair. Luckily for me, Lowe’s is only 4 miles up Hwy 71, just a short drive and I am always listening to an Audiobook as I drive and if the timing is right (late afternoon), a stop at Starbucks. When I returned, I sprayed a large amount onto the cracks in the bottom of the unit and then waited (indoors) for that to dry before turning the unit over to respray the inside. With that complete, I let the entire thing dry out overnight before testing it with water again.
Next day, I was out bright and early eager to check the repair to see if it held up. Needless to say, it didn’t although the water flow has been reduced to just a few drops. So, I did more work on the unit and resprayed with the Flexseal. While I was working on it and upon further inspection, I discovered that the tub has several other cracks in it that I had not noticed before. I decided that as I am unable to fix the original leaks, that tub will be relegated to a flower planter.
All is not lost though as among my many ponding treasures picked up over the years, I have a filter unit that I got from Emerald Garden Water Gardens and Nursery when they were going out of the Pond business and transforming to Leaf Landscape Supply. I spent a couple of days preparing and replumbing it so that I can use it instead. It is not as big as the unit that it is replacing but as the secret is in keeping a constant flow of water moving through the filter material, then it will work just fine. It has a metal base which is quite heavy but the unit itself is easy enough to handle.
Incidentally, I intermixed working on this filter unit with another project. I already had a spare 30 gallon Skippy from the 350 gallon pond that I closed down earlier this year so I added it to the 2500 gallon pond that I just trimmed back as that water is also very dirty. It already has one 30 gallon Skippy and the one I added is the same size. This was an easy job and I had it in place and working within the hour. Now, all we got to do is wait for it to do its work. These small Skippies are not permanent unless I want them to be and so are handy to help clean up a dirty pond.
The Savio Filter unit that I recently installed on the Goldfish pond is doing a wonderful job. I can actually see the fish and it is cleaning up the water at a rapid pace.
The next day, I decided that I would make a big effort to re-plumb the “new” unit. I wanted to try to use some of the bits and pieces of pre-plumbed pipe, stuff that has a valve or an elbow and such that I have accumulated over the years and was able to incorporate a couple in the project. I still had to make a couple of trips to Lowe’s for last minute items. I eventually completed the plumbing including the outlet pipes which were both of recycled goodies hence the difference in shape with one elbow a 45 degree and the other a 90.
Then came the fun part of reinstalling the filter material and I carefully placed it piece by piece to get a nice level finish. I still need to cut a couple of pieces of filter that will cover the entire unit and sit on top of the other filter material to hold them in place. All that remained to do was to turn on the water at the pump installed at the far end of the pond and hope that nothing leaks. It didn’t and before long, there was a nice steady flow of water flowing through the filter and back into the pond. After tidying up the dirt around the unit and clearing everything away, all I have to do now is wait for the plants to re-grow up and around the unit to hide it from sight. That probably will not happen this year with the 100 degree heat but maybe in the Fall, there may be some growth. Definitely in the Spring.
Another successful project. Let’s hope that it lasts long enough until either I am too old to care or ten years like the original Skippy, whichever comes first…Wait a minute, in ten years I will be 93 and too old to care anyway.
The fourth pond that I have is only around 1500 gallons and is only two feet deep. This shallow depth is a problem for both regulating the water temperature and keeping the fish safe from the predatory Heron that comes sneaking around occasionally.
After the episodes with this beautiful bird way back in the early part of the year, I finally resolved the issue with the use of a Scarecrow. This gadget has an electric eye that activates it to spray water very noisily resulting in scaring the Heron away. Of course, the Scarecrow is not selective and sprays anything in range that activates it, including me and the dogs. The other problem is that any vegetation that blows in the wind in range of the electric eye, also sets it off. The two that I had installed and activated back earlier in the year added $25.00 a month to my water bill due to their indiscriminate actions. With the water color on the 3000 gallon pond so cloudy, see the earlier blog, I had shut down that Scarecrow and as the vegetation grew in the 1500 gallon pond, shut down that Scarecrow also.
In this case, the vegetation, mainly made up of green and black Taro and Iris had taken over the pond and it was almost impossible to see the water. It was fine when the Taro, which are both fast growing and very tall stood upright but as is often the case with tall plants, as they age they begin to droop and before long, the surface of the pond was just a mass of stalks and leaves. This did help to keep the water cooler and hide the fish from the Heron but was taking oxygen from the water at an alarming rate. Coupled with the tell tale signs of methane and ammonia gasses bubbling to the surface and the loss of five 12 inch Koi and two Goldfish convinced me that I needed to do something and do it fast.
I opted to change into a pair of my old soccer shorts and put on a pair of water shoes that I use in the ponds. I had kicked around the idea of putting on my waders because of the possibility of meeting the Brown Snake but decided against it as it would have been way too hot and uncomfortable. I was also relying the the common sense of the snake to get out of the pond knowing there was a human in it. As it happened, the snake spent his time in his usual spot on the wall between the two ponds sunning himself not more than 5 feet from me at times. It is not a poisonous snake but all snakes will bite when cornered.
It was slow and steady work as I cut back plant after plant. Some I was able to pull up by the roots which was a good thing as I would not have to deal with them again. Others, I just cut back knowing that they would probably regrow and I would have to do this down the road.
After finishing with this part of the job, I had the task of removing the dead material from the bottom of the pond which was much less that I initially figured. Even though I have a Pond-o-Vac vacuum cleaner built especially for ponds, it is usually quicker to get in and physically remove the dead muck and debris using a net. After completing all of the heavy work, I cleaned the skimmer and the filters and checked the pump which is working just fine. I then reactivated another Skippy Filter to help clean the water and finally ended by turning on one of the oxygenators. Now all we have to do is wait for the water to clear.
The next day I worked on cleaning up all of the material that I had cut back and cleared out of the pond and there was a lot of it. I have found that it is easier to use a pitchfork that I happen to own that I know for a fact is almost 100 years old having belonged to Clark, my Stepfather’s brother at the old farm back in New York State. It still works well and is ideal for picking up the long stalks of the Taro. I don’t know how many trips I made to the compost pile but it was a lot. I was a lot cooler the day before when I was working in the pond itself but cleaning up the mess was very hot work in the 90 plus degree weather.
I finally finished the work at least for a while. Things won’t grow as fast during the really hot weather and it won’t be long before it is Fall, only another month. As with the small pond, I had to reactivate another one of the scarecrows with the vegetation out of the way, the few remaining fish that are still alive, are possible food for the ever present threat of the Heron.
This pond is the next on the list to permanently close down in the next year or so mainly because of the shallow depth. I am getting old whether I like it or not and need to start thinking of the future which eventually includes selling this house and moving elsewhere, probably in an assisted living complex. I know that I cannot keep working on things as I presently do and must plan accordingly. It’s hell growing old…
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